Nico tipped his head back, enjoying the feel of the late summer sun on his face. The air was heavy with end-of-camp nostalgia, and, for the older campers, mild hangovers.
None of it felt quite real. The blue sky, the green grass, the sweet smell. They’d fought a war this summer. They’d lost so much. So much had changed, so many things would never go back to how they were.
“Keep it going while we’re gone, all right, lover boy? No break-ups till we get back.”
Nico flushed when Drew and Lacy strode past with their designer suitcases and matching smirks. Unbidden, memories of the previous night rose to the surface of his mind. Will’s hands cupping his face, his thumbs gently tracing his cheekbones. Warm breath fanning across his skin, the smell of mint and disinfectant. Soft lips moving against his.
Nico rubbed his arms where goosebumps had appeared.
He rolled his eyes when Jason came up to him, a gym bag tossed over his shoulder and his default expression around Nico, careful concern, etched across his stupidly handsome face. The son of Hades shook his head.
Jason looked him over appraisingly.
“Seriously. It’s just weird. You know. Everyone leaving.” He lapsed into poetic silence.
The son of Jupiter considered him for a few more seconds.
“You’ll let us know if you need anything, right? Remember, we’re just a phone call away.”
Nico rolled his eyes, waving his arm at the son of Jupiter. “Yeah, yeah.”
“I’m serious, Nico.”
“Yeah, will do.”
Cecil brushed by. “Will do indeed,” he snickered. “See you next summer, Goth boy.”
Nico sighed, but obliged in a high five as Jason frowned dangerously.
“And if Solace tries anything, you should definitely let – ”
Piper came up behind her boyfriend and grabbed him by the hood of his sweatshirt.
“We gotta get going, bye Nico, keep in touch, love you!” she called cheerfully over her shoulder, dragging Jason after her. Nico smirked back and waved.
“And let that son of Apollo know I can be here in six hours, so he better watch it!” yelled the son of Jupiter.
Nico buried his face in his hands.
“Duly noted,” said an amused voice beside him.
Nico automatically spread his fingers to peek at the handsome demigod beside him. He remembered how Will had looked in the light of the fireworks, sprawled out on the blanket next to Nico, watching the show with their fingers loosely intertwined. His eyes had looked like they held the stars when they’d kissed good night, later at his cabin. But seeing him here in the morning light, Nico knew, beyond a doubt, that this was where Will belonged. In the sun.
“Hey,” he breathed. He was rewarded with one of the son of Apollo’s million-watt smiles.
The son of Hades almost succeeded at repressing a smile, turning to watch the buses peel away, one by one.
“It’s going to be different, isn’t it,” he mused aloud, looking around at the remaining campers. There were barely twenty of them.
Will nodded. “Tell me about it. I’ve only got Kayla and Austin left to boss around. Whatever am I going to do with all this extra time on my hands?”
He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at Nico, and the son of Hades felt himself blush again.
“We should go,” he replied, gesturing at the other campers, who were trooping back towards the dining pavilion for breakfast. Though not without a few sly glances at the two boys.
The son of Apollo looked over, his expression partly disappointed and partly approving.
“You’re right. We can’t have you missing meals now, can we. All right, let’s go.”
Nico turned to start trudging up the hill when a warm hand wrapped itself around his wrist, pulling him back. He gasped when Will pressed a brief kiss to his nose.
“All right, now we can go,” the son of Apollo commented smugly.
Nico gaped at him outraged, but nevertheless allowed himself to be pulled along by their intertwined fingers.
Will couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so happy at the end of summer. Last year his brother Michael had died, the year before his brother Lee… okay, no thinking about that. This year, he was dating his crush. Or at least, he assumed he was. Hm, he should probably check that with Nico. He was done making assumptions concerning what the kid knew and didn’t know about dating in this day and age. Although he’d been a pretty fast learner where kissing was concerned. At first he’d been stiff and uncomfortable, but soon, under Will’s gentle prompting, he’d begun moving his lips as well, the feeling…
A hand nailed him across the back of the head.
“Ew, stop making your “thinking about Nico” face, it’s gross,” grumbled Kayla, settling beside him on the bench with a pile of pancakes absolutely swimming in maple syrup. (So much for stereotypes, Will noted.)
The son of Apollo glanced across the pavilion at the Hades table. Nico was sitting alone as usual, stabbing away at a pile of eggs that still looked too small from Will’s perspective.
“Hey guys, I was thinking. Since we have loads of room at the table here now, would you mind if Nico joined us?”
Austin looked up from the sheet music he was using as a place mat.
“We can do that?”
Kayla wrinkled her nose. “No we can’t. That’s against the rules, Will.”
Austin snickered. “So’s bringing a guy back to the cabin while everyone’s at the fireworks.”
“Austin!” his sister hissed, turning crimson.
“What? Aw, come on, Kayla, I thought I could trust you,” Will protested.
“Oh please, like you didn’t spend the entire night locking lips with your precious son of Hades,” she dismissed.
Will chewed for a moment, wondering whether this was a battle he wanted to pick. If it had been Mark again, the guy was gone anyway, so it wasn’t like it mattered.
“Fine,” he decided. “But seriously, I’m sure Chiron would understand, if I told him it was for medical reasons -”
“Oh, right, medical reasons,” Austin smirked. “Yeah, Chiron will totally believe that.”
Kayla sighed, rolling her eyes. “Oh, come on Will, he’s fine, look at him.”
The three of them twisted around to look across the pavilion, which in hindsight was not very discrete. Nico choked on the sip of coffee he’d been taking. (Coffee, really? Will had to introduce the kid to hot chocolate) The children of Apollo winced, and Will waved awkwardly before they turned back.
“He’s still a bit peaky,” Will argued softly.
Kayla rolled her eyes. “Then give him something to eat between meals.”
Austin choked on his own drink, spraying orange juice all over the table and his music partitions. Their sister regarded him disgustedly.
“Look, I just don’t think Chiron will go for it is all,” she argued, picking up a jazz version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons between two fingers. “Not unless he starts accidentally ripping holes in the floors or something.”
“That would be so awesome,” muttered Austin, mopping up orange juice.
Nico probably could have identified the sound of Will’s flip-flops from a mile away, which was the only reason he didn’t try to decapitate the healer when a set of arms looped around his waist from behind. That, and he’d seen the son of Apollo interact like this with everyone from Kayla to Cecil, putting his weight on them like a shelf as he read over their shoulder. And also he knew they were currently alone in the infirmary office. That was why he accepted it. It had nothing to do with how nice the warmth felt pressed against his back, or the goosebumps that erupted along his arms when a familiar minty breath wafted across his cheek…
“Whatcha reading?” murmured the healer, and Nico shook himself, blushing madly.
“Um, it’s just something Jason gave me.” He showed the cover to Will.
“The Song of Achilles? That’s a good one,” the son of Apollo commented, swaying back and forth and rocking Nico’s whole body in the process. “Mythologically unsound, of course, but great reading.”
“Yeah, I, uh... ” Nico trailed off when he felt Will’s breath brush across his neck, and he shivered before suddenly jerking away.
He immediately felt awkward. “I, uh,.. Sorry about that,” he muttered, flipping the book in his hands.
Will shook his head. “It’s fine. I should really… I get kind of clingy sometimes, and I don’t realize...”
They spent a few awkward seconds staring at each other.
“Oh my gods, you two are hopeless!” yelled Valentina from outside the office, where she was reclining on her infirmary bed with a glossy magazine. “Take it outside and stop giving me nightmare fodder, would you?”
“So I wanted to check something with you,” Will told him as they hurried out of the infirmary, chased by the threat of permanent make-up and radioactive glitter.
“Yeah?” Nico asked, running a hand across his mouth to check for any lipstick, just in case.
“Yep. So, you’re okay with… ” Will waved his hand in the air between the two of them.
“Oh no, did she get you with nail polish?” Nico grabbed the hand to inspect his fingers, which were, thankfully, polish free.
“Nah,” Will smiled awkwardly. “I mean, you’re okay with… us, right?”
He weakly gestured between them again with the hand Nico wasn’t currently holding. Which Nico dropped like it had caught fire, or possibly fake tips.
“I… am,” he voiced in somewhat surprise.
Will looked relieved.
“Good, because I’ve kind of started referring to you as my boyfriend in my head, and I sometimes accidentally start talking out loud, so I wanted to – ”
Nico stumbled back a couple of steps. Boyfriend. Why was that word so frightening. It was just a word, made up of two other simple words. Boy. Friend. Simple. And yet together, it all became so much more complicated. Like “hold hands in public” and “commitment” and “follow you into Tartarus” complicated. (Though granted, maybe that last one was just Percy.) And great. Now Nico was having trouble breathing.
Meanwhile, Will was still talking. “Oh my gods, I’m so sorry, I jinxed it, didn’t I? We don’t have to use that word if you don’t want to, I can just discipline my thoughts a bit, just please don’t break up with me, Nico? Nico!”
Really, it was fascinating to watch. It was like a switch flipped in Will when he led Nico to sit on the ground and pressed a hand to his wrist and another to his chest, the frantic teenager leaving place to the calm and collected healer who slowly started counting.
“Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Just breathe with me, Nico. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. That’s right, you’re fine.”
One, two three, four. With each number, breathing became easier, until Nico finally slumped forwards, exhausted, to rest his forehead on Will’s shoulder. The healer gently rubbed his back.
After a few more breaths, Nico looked up again. “Sorry about that,” he croaked, his voice dry.
Will pulled Nico forwards again to rest his head back on his shoulder. “Don’t apologize,” he murmured soothingly.
Nico sighed, closing his eyes, breathing in the comforting scent of Will’s scrub shirt.
“I really want to do, you know,… all that with you, but I’m sorry. I think I’m just too damaged.”
Will suddenly pushed him back, fixing the son of Hades with a startling glare.
“Don’t you say that. Don’t you ever say that.”
Nico squeezed his eyes shut, more to block out Will’s glare than anything. “It’s the truth.”
He didn’t have much warning. A hint of warm breath wafting across his face, the smell of mint. Suddenly, there were lips on his, probing, insistent. He gasped, and the son of Apollo nipped at his lower lip, drawing Nico in further. Kissing Will was like nothing he knew. It was warm and gentle, but also insistent, and he felt it all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes.
When they finally broke apart, Will pressed their foreheads together briefly, leaning away when Nico tried to chase his lips.
“Believe me, Nico, a damaged person would not kiss me like that.” Will’s tone was steel. “Now here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to put a pin in this whole conversation. We are not going to use the b-word. We are just going to keep doing b-wordy things like kissing and nice picnics, and me threatening anyone who looks at you with needles until you’re comfortable with the b-word. Understood?”
Nico strangely liked this commanding side of Will. It was different from what he’d grown used to, not making his own life-altering decisions, but kind of nice as well. He simply nodded.
“Can we not call it that, though?”
Will rolled his eyes. “I’ll think of something.” And when Nico tentatively leaned forwards, he smiled, and happily obliged.